November 30, 2017
By Brian Babcock
The owner of a vehicle has a responsibility to make sure that their vehicle is safe to operate. This includes the condition and inflation of the tires.
On November 21, 2017, the Court of Appeal decided an unusual case, House v. Baird in which the owner of a vehicle being driven by his friend was found 50% responsible for that friend’s injuries, with the friend as driver equally responsible.
The case arose out of a tragic accident in the Waterloo Region, but could easily have happened in Thunder Bay, or anywhere in Northwestern Ontario. Unexpected road conditions, excessive speed, and bald overinflated tires all contributed to the accident in which the driver lost control, spun into the oncoming lane and the vehicle was struck by a vehicle. One passenger was killed, and the driver seriously injured.
In the lawsuit by the driver against the owner and the municipality, the municipality was found to not be at fault, in that it had satisfied its obligations to maintain a safe roadway – a road authority is not an insurer, and is not expected to keep roads clear of ice, snow and slush at all times.
The owner was found at fault for having tires on the vehicle which showed wear bars, and were overinflated, which reduces traction on wet or icy surfaces.
The driver was also partially at fault for his own injuries, due to excessive speed and distracted driving.
What happened next is what is unusual. The court had to divide the fault between the two parties – owner and driver. Because the judge could not say how much each factor – the tires; the excessive speed; and the distracted driving – contributed to the loss of control, he relied upon a section of Ontario’s Negligence Act that allowed him to apportion or divide fault equally between the two at-fault parties.
Although there have been earlier Ontario cases where poor tire condition, or failure to use snow tires, made an owner partially at fault for an accident, this 50% share of fault is noteworthy. It is also unfortunate for the young owner of the vehicle, who had a friend die and two friends injured, was sued by three people, and only had one million dollars’ worth of liability insurance. His share of the driver’s judgment alone exceeds his policy limits.
This tragic tale serves as a useful reminder, with winter upon us, to check both the condition and inflation of our tires.